God as Partner, not Authoritarian Dictator
It seems that about every other week I have a conversation with someone who is lamenting how much they struggle with their faith. “I just wish I was more convinced about the reality of God in my life and what it all means.” Of course, their assumption is that when it comes to the faith journey certainty and undiluted clarity is possible.
This assumption is grounded in our image of God. The personality sciences tell us that our image of God is often the product of our relationship with all the fundamental authority figures in our life. If our parents, teachers, and religious leaders were aloof, stern, and demanding, then we project those relationships on to our relationship with God. Because so many of us have had authority figures whose relationship with us was a one-way street—not much interested in giving us any agency in this relationship—we end up with a relationship with God that is a one-way street. God is a static entity with all the answers, and our job is to passively submit to whatever God says.
This is not how the Bible describes our relationship with God. In the Bible, we find human beings fully engaged with God in a way that effects God. There is an extraordinary level of mutuality in this relationship. One of the most startling examples of this is our reading from The Book of Exodus for this coming Sunday(Ex.32: 1-14). While Moses is on the mountain with God, Aaron and the Israelites build a golden calf. God informs Moses of their idolatrous behavior and says to Moses “Now let me alone, so my that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them (32:10a).” What does Moses do? Does he roll over and say, “You’re the boss. You know best.” No. Moses challenges God: “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people (32:11-12).” What is God’s response to Moses’ challenge? “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on this people (Ex.32:14).”
How astonishing? Moses challenged God and God had a change of heart. Moses believed that what he had to say would have an impact on God and it did.
For Moses God was not an authoritarian dictator, but a partner with whom he had made a covenant. Covenantal relationships are mutual and unfold. What each member of the covenant says and does affects the other. What does this have to say to the person lamenting that their faith is a struggle? It says this: If the person can begin to see that their relationship with God is an unfolding relationship in which their questions, concerns and desires matter, maybe they can begin to see that this is at the heart of the faith journey. The faith journey is not about eventually achieving certainty, but about an ongoing dialog with God. And just as in a relationship with another human being, the real challenge is to bring more and more of who we are into the relationship. When we bring more of who we are to a human relationship, that relationship deepens. If we bring more of who we are to God, we just might find that our relationship with God deepens in spite of all the unanswered questions and uncertainty.